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ruleBackground

Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

Nov. 20, 2001

Drift

A few weeks ago I realized I no longer believed God answered my prayers.

This was not one of my finer spiritual discoveries.

Yet it was so self evident that when the Holy Spirit brought it before me, there was little I could do but assent, and then repent.

I tell you this story about my own prayer life as a warning about the dangers of spiritual drift, which so easily happens to Christian leaders when we neglect to watch over our souls.

The condition developed so gradually over an eight-year period that I had not noticed it. But once the Holy Spirit brought it to my attention, it was very clear what had occurred.

During this time, my growing awareness of Who Jesus is coupled with my new appreciation of the needs of the church and my love for my family had led me into my first serious, long-term commitment to prayer.

I prayed for strength, healing and perseverance for a good friend who was enduring difficult times.

I prayed for the church I was serving as it came unraveled — for it to remain faithful to where God was leading it, for its leaders to choose Jesus over ignorance and fear during crisis, for it not to tear itself apart, for newcomers and those weak in faith not to be hurt, and for people to realize the terrible damage they'd caused and see the need to repent.

I prayed for the health and growth of a church plant I was helping found, and I prayed for wisdom and discernment for the denomination officials who were working with us.

I prayed for close family members who desperately needed physical healing.

I prayed that loved ones who didn't know Jesus would come to know Him.

During these eight years I learned much about myself through prayer and I grew tremendously in my faith. But for every one of the people and situations I'd prayed, my prayer was answered with a "no" or a "wait."

Despite my prayers, my friend's difficult times turned much worse. The church I served ate itself up. Our church start failed. The denomination washed its hands of us. My family members declined and died. My loved ones didn't embrace Christ.

I kept praying through each new disappointment. But as they continued to pile up, I subtly began to change my prayers. I didn't even realize I was doing it.

Rather than for healing, I started praying for "strength to endure" for suffering people. After someone told me that I had to face the fact that my loved ones might never come to know Jesus, I didn't pray as often or as confidently for their salvation. I became resigned that there would be no repentance among those in the broken church. And as I watched my friend's situation continue to worsen despite years of intercession, I found myself at a complete loss.

I was losing faith, drifting away from the Bible's teaching on prayer, but I didn't know it. I hedged more and more as I spoke to God, hoping to cover all the possibilities of His action or inaction. I convinced myself I was being "open to whatever God's will was." In truth, I was trying to protect myself from further disappointment by not really asking for anything at all.

*****

Finally, a few weeks ago, the Spirit brought all this before me by asking: "You don't really believe anything is going to change when you pray, do you?"

He had me. I answered bitterly, "Why should I?"

In that instant, everything broke apart. I saw who I had become: a person who really didn't believe that God cared about me or anything or anyone I loved.

Oh, I still believed that God answered prayers on the macro scale — that He was working through history to complete His salvation plan, that He could and did use world events to further it, that He was guiding renewal in His church, that He was raising up leaders, that His grace was moving people to come to know him, that He was still performing miracles of healing and power.

I just didn't believe these things happened on the micro scale — in particular, to me and the people I cared about. No, suffering was my lot from God, and the best I could hope was that He would give me the strength to somehow bear up under it. But miracles? Healing? God did that for other people, not for me.

I had drifted from belief into some major self-pity.

*****

I repented.

I cried out in helplessness: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

The Spirit brought Scripture to my mind.

My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts — they are much higher, the Lord says in Isaiah 55:8-9. To Habbakuk, who was having so much trouble waiting and understanding God's timing, the Lord says, "The revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay."

The Spirit brought God's attributes to my mind.

He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is faithful. He is loving. His will is ever directed to His children's good. He never changes. He never grows weary. He is powerful. He is holy.

Being reminded of these truths about God was the antidote to the unbelief the Spirit had uncovered in me. My bitterness and anger could not stand up to who God really is and the good He desires in my life.

I saw how far I had drifted. And I thanked God that He had brought me back

*****

Drift gets a starring role in Satan's arsenal of weapons that distract and destroy Christians. Satan is patient, willing to work by taking us one small step away from the path at a time. If he can gradually get us to believe God isn't who He says He is, or that He would do things to us that are completely out of character, he's got a major foothold from which he can cause all sorts of damage. (See the devotion, Sincerely Wrong.)

Like the movement of a glacier, drift is so subtle we rarely notice it. We can drift so imperceptibly we appear not to be changing our position at all.

But over millennia a glacier is a very powerful, landscape-changing force. Just so, as days, months and years go by, if our spiritual drift isn't corrected, we can seriously stray from our faith.

That's what had happened to me. I woke up to discover that parts of me believed God didn't love me, that He enjoyed my suffering and that He didn't care about the victory of His church.

Take a moment right now to think and pray. Have you allowed any lies about Who God is and how He acts to take hold in your life?

*****

How can we combat drift? Thinking back on my experience, I realize several things would have helped me better fight the drift of my spirit. I am now incorporating them into my devotional life.

  1. I need to constantly keep before me Who God is, what He is like, and how He acts, as revealed in Scripture. When I do this regularly, it helps protect me from buying into lies about Him. I am listing truths about God in a blank page of my Bible so I can review them in times of need. (You can find a list of the Old Testament names of God at shema.com. In addition, there is a good list and Bible study on God's attributes at bible.org.)
  2. I must recognize my own helplessness. I simply cannot stay on the narrow path of faith by relying on my own power. I need to remain in constant, purposeful, daily communion with Christ, so that His power can flow into my life and enable me to live as His follower. My helplessness extends into the communion itself. It is the Holy Spirit who enables even my prayer.
  3. I need to take seriously the need to spend time every day in God's Word for advice, admonition, comfort, and course correction. My attitude towards reading the Bible is the key. This is not a chore or a duty. It is a source of life that God has given me to guard my soul and keep me from drift.
  4. I need to recognize who I am as well, and praise each member of the Trinity for their daily work in my life.
  5. I need to seek out and stay in close contact with mature Christians who will hold me accountable. It is harder to drift when someone's got your back.
  6. And finally, I need to "keep short accounts" with God. I need to invite the Holy Spirit to search my heart and show me anything of which I need conviction. I need to acknowledge and accept the Spirit's correction for my sin. Getting and staying honest with the Lord can keep me from drifting, for I drift the most in the sinful places I have closed to him.

When I stumble, I must let the One who knows that I am dust help me stand and walk forward with Him again. My prayer for you is that you will let Him do the same in your life.

Beware the power of drift.

.

 


My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts.

— Isaiah 55:8-9